This week’s swishes nearly all came from the same night, but after a former Trojan legend hit a game-winner, this officially became the NBA’s best weekend of the year.
Zion Williamson: The NBA’s next transcendent player
What do you get when you mix the body of Shaquille O’Neal with the skills of a young LeBron James and a guy that is slightly taller than Michael Jordan? You get one of the most unique forces to enter the NBA in decades.
Zion Williamson is the most hyped prospect since LeBron James. When LeBron came into the league, people called him overhyped and we all saw how wrong they were. On Friday night, Zion had a virtuoso performance where he proved all his doubters wrong.
With 37 points on 15-of-28 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds and eight assists, Zion showed that he is already beginning to fill any holes his game is criticized for, especially his passing.
Another criticism of Zion’s game is that he hasn’t developed his jumper yet. This was an early criticism of LeBron as well, but as we can see here Zion is already working on this.
The final criticism of Zion? He isn’t clutch enough, but here he once again uses his combination of power and speed to show up in the clutch.
At 20 years old, Zion is averaging 26.5 points per game on 61.7% shooting, which is the highest scoring average ever with a field goal percentage over 60%. He is also averaging the highest field goal percentage ever with more than 15 field goal attempts per game. Oh, and by the way, he is 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, so he immediately stands out on any basketball court.
There are so many 7-foot “unique” unicorns that the term is becoming less unique, and we may have to invent a new comparison for the truly unique Zion Williamson. Zion may surpass Kyrie Irving as the greatest basketball prodigy to come out of Duke, but the NBA’s greatest USC product had his own shining moment this weekend.
Former Trojan DeMar DeRozan’s shining moment
DeMar DeRozan grew up a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan in Southern California. He studied his every move including his footwork, shooting form and ability to make difficult shots in the clutch.
DeRozan stayed in Southern California for college and excelled during his time as a Trojan, winning the Pac-10 Tournament MVP award and making the All-Freshman team in 2009. This led to a career filled with playoff appearances, multiple All-Star selections and multiple All-NBA selections.
DeRozan was also known for his ability to perform in the clutch with the Toronto Raptors, but on Sunday he created his most clutch moment with the San Antonio Spurs since joining them in 2018.
With 3.9 seconds left and the score tied at 117-117, DeRozan began confusing his defender with crossover dribbles. He then used his expert footwork to step to the side and create space before drilling the game-winning jumper with half a second remaining.
DeRozan wasn’t the only Kobe disciple with a shining moment this weekend.
Jayson Tatum puts the league on notice
While Kyrie Irving may be the most accomplished Blue Devil in the NBA, Jayson Tatum is another superstar on the rise from Duke, putting the league on notice with a 53-point masterpiece on Friday. Tatum became the youngest player to score 50 points in the storied Boston Celtics franchise that includes 11-time champion Bill Russell and three-time champion Larry Bird.
Like DeRozan and Irving, Tatum grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, even going so far as to train with him. Bryant’s signature moves and footwork have often been emulated in Tatum’s game, but they truly showed up in this magnificent performance.
You can see the footwork, spin moves, off-ball movement and strong finishes reminiscent of Tatum’s boyhood hero. If you want spectacular footwork, Tatum’s mid-range threat pulls his defender to the outside before he backs him down, performs a spin move and finishes with a dunk.
While the Black Mamba may have retired five years ago on April 13, 2016, it’s plays like this from those who grew up watching him that keep his legacy alive. After this weekend, the excitement of the league is clearly in great hands.